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Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

High Commissioner Türk provides update on Ukraine: “War is the worst enemy of human rights”

09 July 2024

A thermal power plant in Ukraine damaged after one of the rocket attacks in 2024. © HRMMU / Anastasiia Honcharuk

Delivered by

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk


Oral presentation of the High Commissioner on Ukraine (Human Rights Council resolution 50/30) and interim report of the Secretary-General on human rights in Crimea (GA resolution 78/221)

Mr. Vice-President,


Distinguished delegates,

Yesterday’s massive missile attacks across Ukraine, including the horrifying strike on Okhmatdyt, Ukraine’s largest children’s referral hospital, once again lay bare the disastrous consequences of the war waged against Ukraine by the Russian Federation.

I am outraged by the sight of children, already so vulnerable in war, suffering the terror of attack while receiving medical treatment.

Appallingly, we see this again and again, not just in Ukraine, but also in Gaza, Sudan, and elsewhere.

Our common humanity is lost in such instances.

It begs the question again and again why the dangerous ideology of past centuries is back with such a vengeance. After all that happened in the 20th century and with the founding of the United Nations, we would have thought the world had overcome such atavistic and perilous thinking.

These relentless, daily attacks across the country continue to aggravate the human rights situation of civilians, causing physical harm, destroying homes and infrastructure, and ripping families apart.

Leading to long-term socio-economic challenges, including diminished access to education, loss of livelihood, and poverty.

The month of May saw the highest monthly verified civilian casualty number in nearly a year, with 174 civilians killed and 690 injured in Ukraine.

According to my team on the ground, between March and May, 436 civilians were killed and 1,760 injured, including children, media workers, healthcare workers, and emergency service personnel. The actual figures are likely higher.

These high civilian casualties are largely the result of the ground offensive and aerial attacks, including with powerful air-dropped bombs, that took place in Kharkiv region. Since 10 May, nearly 12,000 people were evacuated from the border regions, and several thousand others fled their homes on their own out of fear for their lives.

Coordinated, large-scale attacks by the Russian Federation against Ukraine’s critical energy infrastructure, deployed through eight major waves since 22 March, have been the most extensive since the winter of 2022/2023.

Such attacks must stop immediately.

They have targeted power generating and distribution facilities, significantly degrading Ukraine’s capacity to generate electricity.

Millions of people across Ukraine experience daily power cuts, often for many hours at a time, reducing access to water supply, mobile and internet connectivity, public transportation, and restricting children’s ability to study, as many in Ukraine attend school remotely.

Knock-on effects are expected on employment, tax revenues and social protection. Price increases are likely to affect groups in situations of vulnerability disproportionately, especially older people with low pensions, the majority of whom are women, persons with disabilities and people living in poverty.

But the worst is possibly yet to come, as energy companies and the Ukrainian authorities caution that repeated strikes have reduced the ability to make the necessary repairs to heat homes during winter. Again, senseless suffering.

Mr. Vice-President,

Recently released Ukrainian prisoners of war have provided detailed accounts of torture, ill-treatment, and sexual violence. They described brutal beatings, prolonged stress positions, electric shocks and beatings to genitals, dog attacks, and severe food deprivation.

Based on interviews with over 600 released Ukrainian civilian detainees and POWs, torture in places of detention run by the Russian Federation is widespread.

This is abominable.

I urge the Russian Federation immediately to cease such practices, to improve detention conditions, establish mixed medical commissions, and to grant full access to my Office and to independent monitors to all places where Ukrainian POWs and civilian detainees are held, including in occupied territory.

My team in Ukraine also interviewed dozens of relatives of POWs and civilian detainees who had not heard from their loved ones in months or even years, and some, no word at all. This silence is agonizing for families. The Russian Federation must ensure, in line with international law, timely information is shared on the fate and whereabouts of POWs and civilian detainees and allow communication with families.

My Office also continued to document the torture and ill-treatment of Russian POWs after capture and while in transit to official places of internment, including beatings and electric shocks. According to our information, the torture of Russian POWs ceased when the POWs arrived in official places of internment. The Ukrainian authorities need to investigate these instances and ensure the treatment of POWs at every stage is in line with international law.

I call for the complete exchange of all prisoners of war, and the unconditional release of those civilians unlawfully detained, including in occupied territory, and for their safe return.

My Office stands ready to support such efforts.

I reiterate that children deported or transferred to the Russian Federation must be returned immediately. I urge the Russian Federation to provide information to the Central Tracing Agency about all children moved from occupied territory and to facilitate their return to their families.

In Government-controlled territory, Ukrainian authorities continued to convict people on charges of “collaboration activities”, including for doing work that benefited the population, such as restoring gas supply or distributing wood for heating. Guilty verdicts were handed down in all 322 judgments issued during the reporting period. I welcome the guidelines recently issued by the Prosecutor General of Ukraine seeking to ensure that prosecution of such cases is aligned with international law and encourage implementation in full.

In occupied territory, my Office has documented increased pressure on residents to obtain Russian passports. Many people who recently left the occupied territory, notably older people, reported experiencing difficulties in accessing health care without Russian citizenship. Parents reported being under pressure to obtain Russian passports to send their kids to school. I recall that compelling residents in occupied territory to obtain the citizenship of the occupying Power is a violation of international humanitarian law.

I now turn to the Secretary-General’s report on the human rights situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, including the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (A/HRC/56/69). It highlights ongoing violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the Russian Federation, including arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and torture, and violations to the freedoms of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly, and association. People perceived as opposing the occupation, including bloggers, journalists, supporters of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, and pro-Ukrainian activists, are targeted.

This is all occurring in a context of near impunity, with the Russian Federation adopting laws effectively granting amnesty to servicepersons for a broad range of crimes.

Mr. Vice-President,

The pursuit of war – the practice of escalation - cannot become the new normal.

I urge the Russian Federation once again immediately to cease its use of armed force against Ukraine, withdraw its military forces from the territory of Ukraine, in line with the order of the International Court of Justice, and scrupulously to respect international humanitarian and human rights law.

There needs to be an immediate stop to the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. During the reporting period, 96% of civilian casualties were caused by the use of such weapons in such circumstances.

My Office will continue meticulously to monitor, document and report on the ground realities of this awful war, including in occupied territory. Accountability must be served.

War is the worst enemy of human rights. It is an aberration, not just in the current context, but also everywhere else.

It has to be shunned and peace must be found in line with the UN Charter and international law.

That is the most fervent wish of Ukrainians.